Issues raised by the implementation of project-based learning in MOOCs (1/4)

Today, we will speak about project-based learning in MOOCs. I designed a MOOC based on this pedagogy and conductive several interviews in order to adress the issues raised by this approach. If you want to get a better understanding of the context surrounding this research, please read the previous blog post (or even better, my PhD : Utilisation des MOOC, éléments de typologie).

Some learners pointed out different reasons for engaging in PBL. Some highlighted an intrinsic motivation in the team work itself. A free lance consultant explained :

“I am very satisfied when I realise that what we have done collectively, I would never have been able to do it on my own, that there was a real added value in the team work, because we have built something that none of us could have built on his own. That is of course my greatest satisfaction”

Others insisted on the fact that the MOOC was an opportunity to foster the development of personal projects, whether in the workplace or outside of it. For instance, this consultant from a consulting company explained that he used the MOOC to develop a training session he was supposed to organize.

“I am supposed to give a training session soon and I haven’t prepared it at all […].So I was advised to kill two birds with one stone and to use the MOOC to prepare this training session little by little”

This behavior was not exclusive to the workplace; a stay-at-home mother explained that she targeted specifically MOOCs which enabled her to develop her personal projects.

I dropped out from some MOOCs because I could not develop a personal project through them. […] In a way I use MOOCs to develop my own projects, to have deadlines for my own projects. I actually try to link the topic of the MOOC with some of my projects; For instance, to design games, there are many courses about gamification.

The lack of interest for proposed projects, lack of time and fear of commitment were expectedly pointed out by some interviewees as the main reasons for not proposing or joining a project. A participant explained that the fear to break a commitment was the main reason why he preferred not to join a project:

I did not want to disappoint anybody by saying “I want to commit with a project” and then to step back. […] I really like team work, but I did not want to engage as I hate breaking a commitment. 

Participants had only three weeks to team up and to submit the first assignment. Some of them explained that they found that the amount of time left to interact with potential teammates was too short. A web designer was reluctant to engage in a team for the following reason:

“I need to work on activities for sure, but I actually dislike when the activities start right at the beginning of the course, I need to know the community, so to speak, before i can work with people, I need to discover them.”

These elements may contribute explain why the proportion of project leaders was so low among enrollees, but not why there was such a gap between the number of submitted ideas and the number of teams that completed the Design Track. We therefore looked at the following steps of the process, namely team formation and project development.

We investigated on the issues of team formation to explain this result. Firstly, some participants reported they were not interested in teaming up even if they proposed a project. For instance, this employee of an anthropology Museum explained that the context of her project was too specific, and that she would recruit team mates only on her working place.

“I am in a really peculiar context, and I would have spent a huge amount of time explaining to other team mates  what the project was about. […] However, for the next iteration of the course, I hope to gather a small team in my workplace so that we can follow the course together.”

Additionally, project leaders pointed out that they encountered difficulties to find team mates. A retired teacher and project leader told that despite the fact that people seemed interested in a project of MOOC, they finally stepped back without explanation.

Two/three people told me they were interested by my MOOC project […]. I told them that I was glad they joined, since it is complicated to design a MOOC on one’s own. And then, no more news, I do not know what happened, I do not know where they were, they just disappeared. […] I was pretty happy to find two people who were interested by the project, and I regret that it did not work out.”

The opposite situation was also reported. Some learners told that they failed to join a team due to the lack of reactivity of project leaders. This learner reported:

“Honestly I really wanted to follow the Design track, but I found it a bit messy at the beginning. I tried to join two or three projects, but in the end nobody would reply. They always replied at the last moment, and afterwards I told myself that that I would follow the “Analysis” track instead. The “Analysis” track allows you to follow the course on your own, you don’t have to struggle with people who work at the last moment.”

These excerpts represent only few of the many issues raised by the implementation of project-based learning in MOOCs. We will continue in the next blog post.

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